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2013 Champion of State Criminal Justice Award Recipient

Peter Wagner Awarded Champion of State Criminal Justice Reform Award by Nation’s Criminal Defense Bar

Peter Wagner, attorney and Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative, was awarded the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ 3rd Champion of State Criminal Justice Reform Award on Thursday July 25, 2013 at NACDL’s 12th Annual State Criminal Justice Network Conference in San Francisco, California. The Champion of State Criminal Justice Reform Award honors individuals or groups whose exceptional efforts have led toward progressive reform of a state criminal justice system.

Mr. Wagner was recognized with this award for his tireless decades-long work to expose the how the U.S. criminal justice system negatively impacts all people, even those who are not directly involved in the legal system. As a law student, Mr. Wagner discovered that the phenomenon of mass incarceration was self-perpetuating by using an archaic Census Bureau policy to garner undue influence in the legislature for areas containing large prisons. His report, Importing Constituents: Prisoners and Political Clout in New York, quantified the problem and put it on the map. In the decade that followed, Mr. Wagner has built and led a bipartisan urban and rural movement to abolish this practice of “prison gerrymandering,” inspiring four states and more than 200 local governments to abolish the practice. The U.S. Supreme Court’s endorsement of Maryland’s law to end prison gerrymandering has been hailed as one of the major criminal justice and civil rights victories of the decade.

Mr. Wagner has also pioneered work in other areas to show how mass incarceration undermines our national wellbeing. Last year, his work to show how enormous “sentencing enhancement zones” around schools are ineffective and counterproductive helped Massachusetts advocates community to reform this decades-old policy. Most recently, Mr. Wagner lead a research team to expose the perverse incentives and price gouging in the prison and jail phone industry. Earlier this month, Mr. Wagner did an invited presentation of his research at a workshop held by the Federal Communications Commission on regulating the prison and jail phone industry.

Mr. Wagner’s work has been featured in hundreds of papers around the country, and he has won editorial endorsement for criminal justice reform from publications ranging from The New York Times and the Boston Globe to the Terre Haute Tribune and Virginia’s Roanoke Times.

NACDL State Legislative Affairs Director Angelyn C. Frazer said: “Peter’s tireless efforts to educate the public, and in particular legislators, have been invaluable to criminal justice advocates seeking fairness and equity in an often unjust system. Through his extensive research and personal commitment, Peter successfully aided the advocacy community in Massachusetts as they sought reform of school zone laws for the first time since the 1980s. His work with Maryland legislators and others has led to effective campaigns seeking to abolish the practice of prison-based gerrymandering. He now continues in that vein by exposing the exorbitant costs of phone calls from jails and prisons. He is a trusted, passionate leader and I am honored to present him this award on behalf of NACDL’s State Criminal Justice Network.”

Mr. Wagner said, “I am deeply honored to receive this award from such an admirable organization of criminal defense lawyers who are in the trenches every day fighting to bring justice and fairness to our legal system.”

Mr. Wagner is a 2003 graduate of the Western New England College School of Law.

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